Everything everywhere all at once, written and directed by The Daniels (aka Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), is both a film about the unpredictable nature of the universe and its proof. Who could have predicted that a film featuring characters with hot dogs for their fingers would become one of the most emotionally devastating films of 2022?
That a sci-fi drama involving mind-controlling raccoons and action scenes involving butt plugs would become one of the biggest box office hits of the year? Nobody, who is it. The epic drama from writer-director duo The Daniels was a thunderclap that defied all Hollywood logic to win over critics and audiences around the world – leading many aspiring screenwriters to ask themselves, “How can you even begin write a movie like that?
The Daniels came on my podcast, Separate script, to answer this question. Each week on the show, acclaimed screenwriters revisit their first drafts of what have become beloved films. Break down a first draft of Everything everywhere all at once which involved a professional football helmet tester in 1912 Pennsylvania, and many other weird twists and turns that didn’t make the final film, they told me all about their storytelling inspirations and how the scenes and the key characters appeared on the page. Here are a few things I learned from talking to the pair – listen to the full episode below for more powerful screenwriting tips.
It all comes down to character – even in the multiverse
In the film’s original opening, a professional football helmet tester named WT Warren suffers a “quantum crash” and decides that God wants him to become a crime-fighting vigilante. So, he confronts three armed robbers, who quickly stab him to death. “It was very pretentious!” laughs Daniel Kwan. [the reason for that scene] was because at the time there were no other multiverse movies – that was before Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. The pair felt they needed a dedicated stage to explain to viewers the concept of the multiverse, in which there are infinite parallel worlds that are subtly and seismically different from our own.
Gradually, however, the Daniels realized that the scene had set us back to meet the film’s protagonist, Evelyn. Even in a story as distant as this, it was imperative that the film focus on the character whose emotional journey would make all the sci-fi twists matter. “We realized that we needed to reach Evelyn more quickly,” explains Daniel Scheinert. “After all, it’s his movie.”
Anchor your wild ideas in real feelings
Audiences might relate to Everything Everywhere not because he’s ever had finger hotdogs or been turned into a wide-eyed sentient rock (one of the best scenes ever recent cinema, in my opinion). They narrated because the film feels like life in 2022, capturing the frenetic feel of our internet age, in which life moves so fast and everyone exists in their own bubble, that connecting with people (even the ones you love the most) becomes difficult. “We wanted it to be chaotic, before science fiction [element]“, explains Daniel Kwan. “Everyone is in their own world. All the characters talk to each other. They speak different languages. It all felt like an opportunity to show everyone that we already live in the multiverse.
“Fundamentally, [in the opening act] we were posing the problem for our character – this idea that in a chaotic world drawing your attention between different things, it becomes impossible to just look at the people you love and agree with them. And it accidentally hurts people,” Kwan adds. By channeling the 100mph pace of the past few years, in which the internet and political news cycle have accelerated life to breakneck speeds, the Daniels have crafted a film that is both out of this world and utterly cathartic.
Their advice – don’t lose sight of the human emotion and relatable emotion behind your ambitious sci-fi concept. What other gems of wisdom did you learn from the episode? Let us know in the comments below.
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Al Horner is a London-based journalist, screenwriter and presenter. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Empire Magazine, GQ, BBC, Little White Lies, TIME Magazine and more.